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Confessions of a true-blue Tory

I was born anti-Communist. My mother was a refugee from Stalin and Communist Hungary and very Conservative. Her bed-time stories were full of real-life hair-raising escapes and the villains were always the Germans or the Communists.

Her father had been a Hungarian Liberal politician and one of his sayings was: “First the Fascists wanted to kill me; then the Nazis wanted to kill me; then the Communists wanted to kill me. I must be doing something right.”

So family tradition ensured that I was deaf to the blandishments of Socialism. There were other reasons.

Comprehensive

For the whole time I was at the excellent local grammar school, it was under threat of being turned into a comprehensive by the Labour government and the wicked witch of the east, Barbara Castle MP. Or that Communist cow, according to my mother.

The students there were nearly 50% Jewish and I had no idea why anybody would want to be anti-Semitic, was enthusiastically pro-Israel as well. Although I was a Catholic, I admired the Jewish girls who, unlike me, were both bright and hard-working. (I didn’t do working, I was too busy writing stories.) Unfortunately quite a lot of them became enthusiastic supporters of the Socialist Workers Party, or were Trotskyites or Marxists and it never occurred to me that they might have their reasons. After all, some had parents or grandparents with concentration camp tattoos on their arm. Anyway, I thought they were silly to believe in fairytales like workers’ paradises and the like.

Young Conservatives

So off I trotted to Young Conservatives in Finchley where I hoped for interesting political discussions, which I’ve always enjoyed. I got pompous young men who called girls “totty.” I remember trying to convert some of them to the Libertarianism of the science fiction writers I loved, like Robert Heinlein, which troubled and shocked them because political argument was coming out of a region above my rivetingly huge bust.

I persisted for a while, then gave it up as a bad job. The one bright spot was that we had gone into Europe at the beginning of 1973, so I could get a Eurorail card to travel in Europe with no visas. In 1975 I campaigned in the original referendum on whether to stay in – for Remain, of course, which was Conservative policy. I wasn’t even eligible to vote, but we won with 67%.

Oxbridge

And then I went to Oxbridge, laughed at urgent invitations from the Trots and the Marxists, declined Labour and Liberals and joined the University Conservative Association.

At the time Labour were still in power – with the Callaghan government. The big issue in the student union of my lefty college was whether the college should accept any more money from the Shah of Iran. In the middle of much self-righteousness and many motions condemning the college for accepting the loot, the Iranian Revolution broke out.

The Trots and Marxists were ecstatic. Iran would soon be a worker’s paradise!

Then the Ayatollah Khomeini flew to Tehran in February 1979 and their lovely revolution turned all horrid and religious and puritanical and extremely anti-feminist. The sheer cognitive dissonance nearly caused the heads of many of the female Trots and Marxists to explode.

I laughed at them. “When you start a revolution, you don’t know where it will end up,” I told them, being a History student. “Look at the French Revolution and Robespierre.” I wasn’t very popular.

This confirmed me in my Conservatism. You don’t want revolution, I thought, you want gradual evolution, because revolutions destroy so much more than just a political party.

Problems

There were some problems with the Conservatives though: I discovered that some of the other members were very anti-Semitic. One favourite drunken ditty went to the tune of Jingle Bells: “Riding through the Reich, in a big Mercedes Benz, killing lots of Kikes, making lots of friends…” I had to ask someone what a “Kike” was, but they thought that was quite cute and continued to ogle my breasts.

To my shame, I did nothing about this – I just thought they’d grow out of it.

Thatcher

Then Margaret Thatcher swept to power by a landslide on the 4th May 1979. The Conservative Association victory party on the night of the election was riotous and I don’t remember much about it. I was genuinely ecstatic: she was a woman, that was all that mattered.

Fast forward a few years. The financial Big Bang happened in the City of London and many of the rackety young men I knew became very wealthy working for merchant banks, stock trading firms and being forex dealers. I couldn’t persuade any financial corporate entity to hire me – probably rightly. Yes, I did some cocaine. I found it a disappointment: it made my nose hurt and it made everybody else gabble tediously. I got much more of a hit from chocolate.

Thirty years on, some of those rackety young men became Tory bigwigs and grandees. It’s very strange to see them now.

Poll Tax Riot

The first crack appeared with the Poll Tax riot in 1990. I had instantly understood the logic behind the Poll Tax – poor people wouldn’t want to pay it and would thus disenfranchise themselves. I thought this was a stupid idea. Thanks to my grammar school – which you had to pass an exam to get into – I had met plenty of very smart people who were working class or poor. Why on earth did Mrs Thatcher think she could get away with something so blatantly anti-democratic.

It turned out she couldn’t. The Poll Tax riots proved that the despised poor could work out what she was up to and didn’t like it.

Intelligence

She had ignored the important fact that intelligence is “normally distributed.” This means that if, say, 20% of a population are intelligent, that does not mean that just the upper 20% of the population, or the middle classes, are intelligent. It means that in every class 20% of them will be intelligent: given that there are a lot more people in the working/lower classes than in the upper/middle classes, numerically more people in the working/lower class will be intelligent.

Certainly, you can do a lot to blunt the intelligence of working/lower class people. You can make sure they don’t get a decent education, that their nutrition and living standards are lower, that their families aren’t stable. You can also arrange for there to be plenty of illegal drugs around for the bolder adolescents to get addicted to. But you must never ever mistake lack of education or opportunity for lack of intelligence and you should always arrange society so that there are ladders up out of the gutter.

If you don’t do this, if you make it so that intelligent working/lower class people can see no way to better themselves, to climb out of the gutter, they will eventually revolt, and you will be looking at a revolution. Since the invention of gunpowder, the outcome is no longer an inevitable victory for the ruling class.

Didn’t she understand that? Oh well, I thought, she’s been in power for more than eight years which history shows is the maximum a sane human can stay at the top without going crazy. She’s just gone bonkers.

New Labour

Yet by 1997 I’d realised that the New Labour party, having got rid of their Trots and Marxists and tamed the trade unions, was a lot closer to what I thought of as Conservatism than the Tories. To me and probably a lot of other unhappy Tories, Tony Blair’s social democracy was much closer to what I wanted, I voted Labour, and I enjoyed the election broadcast with my husband. He stayed up for Portillo, I didn’t because somebody had to take the kids to school in the morning.

Expectations

Fast forward to 2010 and the hung parliament, and the tripling of university fees. Everybody except Clegg himself knew he’d made a massive mistake in allowing this: sure enough, the LibDems lost 49 of their 57 seats in the next election in May 2015 and Nick Clegg lost his seat. Every student who got clobbered by the increase in fees will forever remember NOT that it was the Tories wot dunnit, but that the LibDems had allowed it.  

There’s an important point about expectations here: the Tories get away with doing dastardly things because they are understood to be bastards who are only in it for the power and the money. Old Etonian chaps, like Boris, especially get away with it because their chappishness makes them appear rather rumpled and sweet, whereas in fact some of them, like Boris, are more ruthlessly ambitious than a shoal of piranha.

The Liberals and Labour are expected to have more lofty aims in mind and suffer terribly in the right-wing media if they are found not to be totally lily-white innocents (and also if they are). Labour suffer again if any of them are found to have more than tuppence and a handkerchief in their patched trousers.

Austerity

By the 2015 election, it was clear that something strange had happened to the Tory party. It wasn’t just the swivel-eyed Brexit tendency taking over, it was the addiction to Austerity.

Economic orthodoxy in the shape of John Maynard Keynes says that after a crash or during a depression, you should stimulate demand by pumping money into the economy, particularly the lower levels.

After the 2007-8 Crash, the US and UK governments used quantitative easing to pump money into the banks. No bankers stood trial nor went to jail for their outrageous frauds. They got truckloads of money – which they naturally kept – and basically an invitation to repeat the whole process, which they have accepted.

Instead the Tories put the squeeze on the working/lower classes – or as chaps tend to refer to them, the Plebs. (Latin, you know.)

Wages were held down, trades unions were crippled, with the help of the right-wing media. And the Tories began the deliberate hollowing out and starving of the NHS as part of Austerity because the NHS is, in itself, a mighty redistributor of money. All the doctors, nurses, radiographers, care assistants, cleaners get paid by the government and then spend their salaries on living. It acts almost like a money irrigation system.

Poverty

By this time, I had experienced poverty and knew many people who were poor – though they staunchly regarded themselves as middle class. I was no longer the same libertarian right wing idiot I had been.

I had realised (duh!) that Libertarianism only works if you’re young and strong and have no dependents. I’d seen the stupidification of the Rich Bubble working on people I knew. I saw David Cameron’s astonishment and hurt when ambulance drivers struck over £5 a week – you could see him thinking, but why would they do that, it’s small change? This is a man who has never ever in his life had to add up his purchases in the trolley as he went around the supermarket so he could afford to pay for it all at the check-out.

Further, I was hearing from less fortunate friends about sanctions on benefit – basically the staff at the benefits office now had the power to take away peoples’ benefits, with no hope of getting any money for at least 5 weeks, more likely several months. Already poor people faced destitution, homelessness and starvation at the benefit office’s whim.

The Tories had weaponised benefits against the people they were supposed to help.

That sheer Victorian cruelty and meanness, turned me against the whole Tory party.

Trickle-down economics – where you reward the rich and the money eventually gets to the poor – turned out not to happen in practice. The rich don’t spend the extra money; they keep it in offshore accounts and don’t even pay taxes on it.

Grey pall

Meanwhile the grey pall of poverty steadily trickled up from the ‘feckless’ poor to nurses and other people working in once-good jobs who found they had to go to food banks in order not to starve.

Wages were held but inflation continued at its normal low levels – money is a terrible store of value, you know? For many ordinary middle-class people, the Austerity years meant a slowly tightening screw as inflation bit into the value of their money, but wages remained stagnant.

So why did the Tories do it? Why did they deliberately do the opposite of what any economist would have told them to do – instead of stimulating the economy they deliberately starved it. Why?

Because they were scared of inflation. They believed that the truckloads of money they’d given to the banks would eventually “trickle down” and cause inflation. Inflation drops the value of things like mortgages so they cost much less in value to pay back, unless the interest rates are high enough. Inflation is probably the only thing Rich Bubble people are really terrified of because it eats the value of their stashes of cash. If wages can rise along with inflation, working people can often survive perfectly well so long as inflation doesn’t go too high. People with savings, capital and fixed incomes get clobbered like the banks. That had happened in the 80s and the late Boomers didn’t fancy going through it again.

So the Tory government kept the caps on wages, they treated everyone on benefits as if they were one of the mythical scroungers that the Daily Mail loves to bellow about. They even managed to sell the idea of “We’re all in it together,” as if Austerity was some kind of natural disaster instead of government policy.

You really can’t fault Cameron on his marketing savvy.

And the right-wing media also managed to convince many of the people slowly being squeezed to death in the Austerity clamp, that it was all the fault of those naughty migrants and the EU.

Referendum

Come 2016 and Cameron kept his election promise to hold a referendum to decide on Leaving the EU or Remaining. Cameron’s idea was for Leave to lose which would get the increasingly ideological Eurosceptic wing of his party off his neck. He was so convinced he would win – living as he did in his Rich Bubble in the Cotswolds and in France – that he incompetently didn’t make sure the referendum required a supermajority of, say, 70% to decide for such a massive constitutional change as leaving the EU.

Presumably he hadn’t seen the Wasteland slowly encroach on High Streets all over the country, the shops shutting until only cafes, charity shops, hairdressers, pound shops, betting shops and pawnbrokers were left. Part of that was the effect of internet shopping, yes, but it was also the effect of the terrible drought of money called Austerity. Nobody could afford to shop on the High Street any more. People hunkered down in their houses or flats and didn’t go out so they wouldn’t spend. And blamed it on migrants and the EU, as they’d been taught.

I will never forget the faces of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson as they came to the podium in 2016 to receive the cheers of the Eurosceptics because they had won the referendum by 3.1%. They looked exactly like boys who had been playing with fireworks and accidentally burned down the school. They were shocked and bashful.

Not lunatics

That soon changed of course. The Eurosceptic wing took over the party and turned out to be the swivel-eyed Brexiters I mentioned earlier.

I’d like to say they were lunatics, but they weren’t. Some of them had a plan. If Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal, the pound and British stocks and shares will take a hammering. If you had happened to have the foresight to bet against the pound and British shares, Brexit would mean big bucks for you. The hit will be taken by the economy as a whole, of course, but some people stand to make billions. Or of course to lose billions if Britain doesn’t crash out. You can understand why they’re so hectic about it.

If you are an MP and you short the pound and British shares and then do your best by your parliamentary activities to cause Britain to crash out of the EU – is that insider dealing? Or something worse? If you get together with fellow MPs to do it as a consortium, is that worse?

I must point out here that a financially-literate friend of mine keeps telling me that it’s perfectly normal for hedge funds to do this sort of thing. And I keep thinking, yes, but not while they’re a sitting MP.

Uglier than Marxism

The Tory party, which had always been run by people in it for the money and the power, which made them predictable, suddenly went as ideological as the most enthusiastic Socialist Workers’ Party member of my youth. The ideologies were even uglier than Marxism. Social Darwinism is a nasty creed – basically the rich get richer and the poor get dead, and thus improve the gene pool by taking their genes out of it. Neoliberalism – which has nothing to do with liberals by the way – basically means that the markets are God and can do no wrong and Capitalism means just a money free-for-all for massive corporations and the financial classes. Small people and small companies can get out of the way or die. There’s a pattern emerging here.

Attractive

Yet I still find many of the old-fashioned Conservative values attractive. The idea of independence, of working hard and earning your own money, the idea of properly functioning capitalism – not predatory capitalism – where competition (and anti-trust laws) keep the companies honest.

Most of the people who voted Leave are patriotic and love England; they didn’t vote for the chaos of the last three years and they didn’t vote for crippling the economy by crashing out of Europe. They voted for the England of their childhood and teens, for a greener, less confusing country with no petty rules. Those romantic images of cricket on the village green, bicycles home to tea, the Royal Navy in command, Agatha Christie, the Few… They pull on heartstrings, make us nostalgic. They’re longed for by people too young to have actually seen them. They are symbols of a time when England was at its best, which is why we harp on about it so much. But we’re right for the wrong reasons.

Kind and generous

My mother and her parents came to England in 1949, political refugees from Stalinist Hungary. It wasn’t easy but they were allowed in as refugees, which they wouldn’t be today. The country was almost broke after spending the entire Empire to stop the Nazis; there was still rationing, living conditions were poor. But the Labour Attlee government had set up the new National Health Service and it had started building council housing to replace the housing stock which had been demolished by the Luftwaffe. The Welfare State started there. Attlee’s Austerity was a very different thing from Cameron’s. It was actually a magnificent, hopeful thing to do.

English people were kind and generous to my mother and her parents – she always remembered that. They were kind and generous again to the refugees after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. That kindness and generosity is the foundation of the NHS and what used to be our social safety net.

We’re right to mourn its loss and we’re right to feel nostalgic for a time when England was on its uppers, but put together the Welfare State.

Massive change

So now it’s time for one of those massive changes that the British electorate specialises in: 1979, 1997, 2019. We urgently need to put the stoppers on Cameron’s Austerity – and if you believe Boris’s scared waffle about ending it, you’re a lot more trusting than I am. We need to stop toying with selling off the NHS and deliberately starving it of funds.

In my view we also need to stay in the EU and continue to trade with the largest trading bloc in the world, and the second largest economy. The largest economy in the world does not like the way the EU keeps snapping at its heels, which is why the Americans will do their best to get us to leave. Did they help the Russians to use Facebook as a propaganda machine against us in 2016?

However, if we have to leave, let’s at least leave with a halfway sensible deal and accept that it will take at least ten years to sort out the details. Let’s have no more of this infantile “get Brexit done” as if it was homework.

Corbyn has been a Eurosceptic for years and is more naturally a Brexiteer than either Michael Gove or the havering Boris. I like his offer: negotiate a sensible deal and then offer it in a referendum versus Remain. I think that will give us a final acceptable answer on the most divisive argument in our history, possibly since the Popish Plot.

Conservative

Why have I gone on at this length? Because I feel that although many of my values have changed, I am still basically conservative. I want to conserve things, not destroy them. In fact, I feel that Conservatism has left me, not the other way around. Even Corbyn’s manifesto is full of things that have been done in Europe and found to work well. It’s fully costed. He’s the economic conservative now.

At the moment I’m living in Hungary which has problems of its own. Some Brexiteers I know seem to feel uncomfortable that I’m an immigrant in another country, as if I should just stay put in England.

No. Living in a foreign country gives you a good perspective on what’s going on in the UK and I’ve done my best to keep up. (I’ve already voted, by the way.) As Rudyard Kipling said, “What do they know of England, who only England know?”

Are English people still kind and generous? I’m not sure. I think so and try to ignore the incidents of racism and bullying I see on social media – it’s a very poor guide to the temperament of a nation.

As far as my Hungarians friends are concerned, the Brits have collectively taken leave of their senses. No one is even slightly envious of our situation. I’m often asked what I think of Brexit and I always warn them that they’re going to get a rant and are they sure they want to know?

Appalled

I’m writing this on the 3 December 2019, nine days away from the most important election in a generation, which the Tories could well win. I am appalled at the prospect.

We urgently need a Green Revolution to start to cope with global heating; we desperately need to kill the ugly policy of Austerity; we must rescue our NHS from the people who want to sell it to the Yanks.

I’m not a Corbyn worshipper – he has plenty of faults, but when you compare him with Boris and his chums, you know which is the grown up in the room, and it’s not the Yellow-crested Waffler.

So if you’ve voted Tory all your life; if you feel despair at being asked to give your precious vote to Boris, a chap who despises you; if you’re even considering voting Green or the Brexit party, because you rightly feel that not voting is simply wrong; stop. Take a deep breath. Hold your nose.

Vote Labour.   

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